Regular readers of my work will know that I tend to focus on novices and unexposed horses, especially when compiling the main protagonists who feature in Jumpers To Follow. Whilst that can be beneficial throughout the season, it isn’t necessarily the best approach when drafting your list for the Tote Ten to Follow competition, which opened on Monday.
The majority of any list should revolve around genuine Grade 1 performers – or those who can reach that level in the coming months – and finding the winner of as many of the ‘Bonus Races’ as possible is also a key strategy. Easier said than done – especially when eight of the 25 are handicaps – but let’s have a go. I thought I would break this preview down into divisions, starting with the established chasers. Keep an eye out for my assessment of the hurdlers and dark horses/novice chasers later on in the week.
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Starting with the two to two-and-a-half milers, it is notable that all four ‘Bonus Races’ that cover these distances are in England. Altior is likely to be aimed at two of them – the Tingle Creek and the Queen Mother Champion Chase – although he will be 11 in January, and only one 11-year-old (Moscow Flyer) has won the Champion Chase in the past 42 years. He is likely to be difficult to beat at Sandown next month, however, where he could possibly clash with last year’s winner Defi du Seuil and this year’s Champion Chase winner Politologue. Dealing with the former first, he went on to win the Grade 1 Clarence House at Ascot last year, and although he clearly underperformed at the festival, I still think that he is very much one to consider here. Again, he is a versatile horse, who could easily step back up in trip this season, so he will have a variety of options open to him, and he still might not have peaked, being a seven-year-old. As for Politologue, Paul Nicholls has stated that he is best fresh and will, therefore, be campaigned sparingly. With that in mind, he is difficult to make a strong case for, unless you firmly believe that he will win the Tingle Creek and Queen Mother, as we might not see him again.
Over in Ireland, Chacun Pour Soi is the obvious candidate for top two-mile honours, although he is another who doesn’t have the best profile with this competition in mind. His season is likely to be geared around the Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas and the Dublin Chase over the same course-and-distance, and I suspect that he will be difficult to beat in each, leaving him as a likely short-priced favourite come March. If kept sound, he is the one to beat in this division, in my opinion.
Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On could step up in distance, with the new Mares’ Chase in mind, whilst runner-up to her Fakir d’Oudairies might also appreciate an extra half-mile, where he will be forced to lock horns with the likes of Min in races such as the John Durkan Memorial.
Cheveley Park Stud enjoyed a magnificent start to the campaign at Down Royal last weekend, and they have two arrows to fire here, with A Plus Tard possibly in the mould of Defi du Seuil, in that we could see him over a range of distances. I was slightly disappointed with his effort in the Ryanair Chase in March, but he is still only six and has had just the eight chase starts, so is far from exposed. Even less exposed is Allaho, a horse who I have plenty of time for. Third in the RSA on just his third start over fences, I’m still to be convinced by him as a thorough stayer, but believe that he could flourish if ridden prominently over a mid-range trip. Personally, I would be aiming him towards the likes of the Ryanair and Melling at Aintree (both ‘Bonus Races’) although he could become a King George (another ‘Bonus Race’) contender if reappearing soon, with the easy 3m at Kempton likely to be within his range. The entries for the King George actually close on Tuesday 3rd November and I will be intrigued to see if Willie Mullins has put him in.
That moves me on nicely to the stayers, and your list really should include at least a couple of selections from within this division. No fewer than 12 of the 25 ‘Bonus Races’ are staying chases (six of which are handicaps), the first of those being the Betfair Chase at Haydock in a couple of weeks. Last year’s winner Lostintranslation is the one to beat here, although the Colin Tizzard stable have made a slow start to the season and it would be nice to see them turn the corner before that fixture. The eight-year-old was faultless in last year’s race and this is a contest in which we have already seen four multiple winners since its inception in 2005; Haydock is very much a track which suits certain horses. Following a disappointing run in the King George, Lostintranslation ran a cracker in the Gold Cup (also at a time when several of the stable’s runners appeared to underperform, so the effort can be marked up) and he looks a major player in the division again this season. Having won at Aintree as a novice, the Betway Bowl (another ‘Bonus Race’) would be another target for him in the spring, too.
Dual King George winner Clan des Obeaux is likely to begin his campaign at Haydock, although he has been beaten on his reappearance in each of the past four seasons, and Paul Nicholls has stated that he won’t be going to Cheltenham in March. Therefore, you are probably basing his inclusion on him winning the King George again, and it might well be a more difficult task this year, following the recent Charlie Hall romp of stable-mate Cyrname. The latter was hugely impressive at Wetherby and is probably the one they all have to beat now on Boxing Day.
As for the Gold Cup Al Boum Photo currently heads the betting as he bids to emulate Best Mate by winning three in a row. I’ve been with him for the past two years, but again, he might not be one who is ideal for this competition, in that we are likely to only see him once before the festival, at Tramore on New Year’s Day. Even if he goes on to Punchestown, those points won’t count (as stated already, the competition ends before the Punchestown Festival) so you are basing his inclusion around him winning the Gold Cup again, and it could be a stronger race next March. Last season’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini is – rather surprisingly, to me – set to return at Haydock in the Betfair also, after which he will probably go for the Cotswold Chase once again. I can’t see him running much more than that, so he is another who I would be cautious of including.
With two more ‘Bonus Races’ in this division coming from Leopardstown – the Savills Chase over Christmas and the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival – including at least one Irish-trained stayer is a must. Following his impressive return to action at Wexford and a rather inconclusive Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal, Minella Indo is definite shortlist material for all. He was a shade keen when runner-up in the RSA in March (like Allaho, on just his third start over fences) but he settled well and jumped impeccably on his recent return, and he has the option of running in one more intermediate chase (at Navan, later this month) before being forced to take on the big boys. The former Albert Bartlett winner looks to have the stamina to be a key player in the Gold Cup, before which I expect him to play a leading role in both the Savills Chase and the Irish Gold Cup.
Delta Work, of course, won both contests last year, after disappointing at Down Royal, and he was again beaten in the same event on his recent return. Perhaps we shouldn’t, therefore, read too much into that performance, although his jumping lacked fluency and that will need to improve. He is sure to be aimed at those two Leopardstown races again.
Going back to last season’s RSA form, the race was of course won – in dramatic circumstances – by Champ, who Nicky Henderson states might himself travel over to Ireland for the Savills Chase. Given that I have been so positive about the placed horses from the RSA, you might expect me to be similarly bullish here, but he really does need to sharpen up his jumping if he is to mix it in open company at the top level, in my opinion. He could begin his campaign at Aintree next month, in the Many Clouds Chase.
Finally, for this section, in terms of the handicap chases Topofthegame is currently clear favourite for the Ladbrokes Trophy and he could easily be a class above the opposition at Newbury at the end of the month. It will be a tough ask from his mark, but if he proves up to the task, he will be straight back into Graded company and will enter the Gold Cup picture in no uncertain terms. And, over in Ireland, Burrows Saint was my idea of an ideal Grand National horse last spring, with the exception of him being only seven. A year older (come next April), he would top my list at this very early stage, although his connections have stated that he won’t necessarily be campaigned with just that race in mind this time around. As I have alluded to numerous times already, selecting a horse for just one particular race isn’t necessarily a good move when it comes to this competition, so I would, personally, keep handicappers to a minimum.
Paul Ferguson’s Tote Ten to Follow
- Chacun Por Soi
- Minella Indo